Denying same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, a Japanese high court says

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A Japanese high court ruled Thursday that denying same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and called for urgent government action to address the lack of any law allowing for such unions. The court does not have the power to overturn the current marriage law, which has been interpreted to restrict marriage as that of one between a man and a woman. Government offices may continue to deny marriage status to same-sex couples unless the existing law is revised to include LGBTQ+ couples, or a new law is enacted that allows for other types of unions.

The Sapporo High Court ruling said that not allowing same-sex couples to marry and enjoy the same benefits as straight couples violates their fundamental right to have a family. A lower court issued a similar ruling earlier Thursday, becoming the sixth district court to do so. But the Tokyo District Court ruling was only a partial victory for Japan’s LGBTQ+ community calling for equal marriage rights, as it doesn’t change or overturn the current civil union law that describes marriage as between a man and a woman.

Five previous court decisions in various districts said Japan’s policy of denying same-sex marriage is either unconstitutional or nearly so. However, unlike the Sapporo ruling, none of the low-level courts deemed the existing marriage law unconstitutional. Japan is the only member of the Group of Seven nations that still excludes same-sex couples from the right to legally marry and receive spousal benefits.

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